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London artist and shaman Matthew Stone talks art, dying gods and the future of spirituality

September 11, 2010

I interviewed my friend Matthew Stone for the current issue of Vogue Hommes Japan. Here’s it is, along with a selection of his amazing images! 

Matthew Stone’s whole being is geared toward a life lived as art. Orchestrating a miscreant scene of visionary youths where celestial bodies fit together and one becomes another, Stone’s rapturous and beautiful images help us to imagine a future where everything is possible. Cited as one of the most influential artists of his generation, whether he’s working in photography, sculpture, performance or film, Stone’s bold proposal for Optimism as cultural rebellion resonates like a pacifist war cry. The unspoken leader of London’s infamous !WOWOW! art collective, Stone’s work reaches beyond art, and his power of existence is recreating the role of the artist in the 21st century.

Known for his effortless style, Stone has composed exclusive soundtracks for each of close friend Gareth Pugh’s fashion shows, and was a resident DJ at the now legendary London clubnight, Boombox. For this issue of Vogue Hommes Japan Stone shot his first ever fashion story, working alongside his boyfriend, stylist Matthew Josephs.

This is the first time you’ve shot fashion. What was different about this
way of working?

I wanted to make images that functioned as fashion photography and not just a repackaged version of what I normally do. Normally I shoot people naked. As much as I love clothes, and have spent years dressing up like an idiot, I feel they are distracting in my work. But I saw this shoot as an opportunity to be more playful with my aesthetic, and to show some of my humor, which doesn’t always come across in my other work.

Your work has always aspired toward the spiritual. However this shoot seems to employ more overt references to pre-existing religious imagery, for example the crown of thorns and the portrait of you cradling a naked body, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta. Was this intentional?

I often try to avoid specific religious references in my work because I want to find a new spiritual language, rather than just comment on the nature or politics of the past. Fashion, however, is a specific cultural conversation that celebrates the recycling of imagery, without demanding that the intentions behind their use be justified. This is what makes it so powerful culturally. The fashion world also welcomes aesthetics and beauty, whereas both are often seen as problematic in contemporary art.

In your self-portrait you wear a crown of thorns. How do you identify with Jesus? Are you a leader?

I think casting myself as a proto-Jesus is essentially where the humor I mentioned comes in. Although if you were to consider that Jesus was basically an anti-capitalist, hippy shaman with a fundamental belief in the transformative powers of love and humanity, then yes there are striking similarities.

More seriously though, anybody that makes culture is in a position of influence, and becomes a leader of sorts to other people. This is why the model of shaman as artist is so appealing to me. An artist can do more than make expensive objects. Artists should live to inspire others to further their own unique creative potential within the world. That is the role of the shaman.

So what exactly is your role as an art-shaman?

The shaman is an ordinary individual who enters non-ordinary psychological states to gain knowledge and energy. This energy is then given a bodily form as art, and shared with a community to effect positive change. So essentially the shaman acts as a bridge between the divine and real worlds. This is still happening today. Art, movies, fashion and music everywhere are all metaphors for supreme energies that everyone can learn to access and be empowered by. Culture constantly speaks of the eternal, but it becomes powerful and resonates when spoken of in the language of our times. Warhol particularly recognized this. I think we can consider his factory a spiritual home to a group of modern shamans, and his portraits as depictions of the saints of his society.

So if Warhol’s sanctified Marilyn, and claimed celebrities as newfound Gods, do you think he saw them as fulfilling a genuinely spiritual role for their devotees?

I don’t know whether Warhol intellectualized what he did to that extent, or whether he just intuitively moved toward something that people loved because it would be successful. I see Andy Warhol as a deeply spiritual artist who worked in a very intuitive way. He had a religious upbringing, so the art he experienced from a young age would have been Byzantine Catholic icon paintings—portraits of saints, the Virgin Mary, devotional figures—and you see that reflected in his paintings. Warhol’s legacy was totally of his own time, but it also transcends it. That’s what all art should aspire toward.

It’s not common for artists today to speak so overtly about the spiritual, but you seem to embrace it.

People are disillusioned with religion and associate it with hypocrisy, war and small-mindedness. Historically we have killed off Gods as they have ceased to serve the social and political reality of our times. In the twentieth century, when God died, we were left with a spiritual vacuum, and nihilism emerged as a new belief system. It’s now up to us to determine new ways of understanding our place within the universe.

How do you choose who you photograph?

Mainly I shoot my friends. Ultimately I want to make images of people who truly inspire me. Somehow I feel that if I work with people who have beautiful minds and beautiful bodies, the images will become infused with the combined energy of their physicality and thinking. Beauty on every level.

So in a way the work becomes a collaboration between you and the people in the images.

Completely. This is what I find so interesting. You can’t use people in the same way you use normal materials. You have to work with people, the same as in everyday life. The artist Joseph Beuys proposed a type of collaboration that resulted in “the world as a living sculpture”.

You’ve referenced Beuys as an influence in the past. Some say his greatest artwork was his statement that “Everybody is an artist.” How do you define an artist?

Artists are not special or worth more than any other person. They are simply those that have come to be conscious of the fact that every action is creative and can be beautiful in some way. The mindful choices that they make not only define their own lives, but shine like happy, truth-loving stars, born to illuminate and inspire the lives of those that encounter them.


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6 Comments

  • Reply Richard September 12, 2010 at 3:49 am

    'Stone’s work reaches beyond art'into what? hucksterism? salesmanship? relax, it's just some nice looking photos by a man with a funny haircut and a sales pitch.

  • Reply Belittled Bee September 13, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Fuck off richard, these are wondrous and the artist is still wholly entitled to deriving meaning from his own work, regardless of how others might perceive it.

  • Reply ELLEN JANE ROGERS September 15, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    I think its a really great interview.

  • Reply jefske October 15, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    excellent interview! it is very insightful into matthew's process and personality.

  • Reply Joan Mira April 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Hello,You can take a look at Momardi. Tuesday's blog about Visual Arts in London. Tales of a girl working her way into the contemporary art scene.Very nice stuff.http://momardi.comCheersJoan Mira

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